Protein powerhouse: New Zealand’s NewFish eyes active and sport nutrition markets in the US with nutrient-rich microalgae applications

By Hui Ling Dang

- Last updated on GMT

NewFish is partnering with Nelson-based Cawthron Institute to commercialise microalgae into food nutrition, with a focus on specialised proteins. ©NewFish
NewFish is partnering with Nelson-based Cawthron Institute to commercialise microalgae into food nutrition, with a focus on specialised proteins. ©NewFish

Related tags Sports nutrition active nutrition New zealand Protein microalgae

New Zealand biotech firm NewFish is looking to accelerate the development and commercialisation of microalgae-based products through strategic partnerships, with the ambition of creating a “whole new category” in the future.

Founded in 2020, NewFish sealed a partnership with Chicago-based Socius Ingredients on May 10 to co-develop microalgae-derived functional ingredients targeted at the active nutrition market in the US.

“NewFish started off with artisanal food products, then we discovered microalgae’s role as the base of the trophic pyramid, where marine life get their nutrients from. As we wanted to develop products that change the way humans interact with nutrition and to create abundance of it — microalgae is the answer.

“We will provide microalgae protein concentrates with high levels of purity to work on various applications with Socius Ingredients, which already has customers in the active and sports nutrition markets,” ​Eleni Yianna Hogg, marketing lead at NewFish, told NutraIngredients-Asia​.

Observing the rise of the active lifestyle trend, the firm aims to tap into the “huge potential” in the active and sports nutrition space.

In the US, the category is growing at a CAGR of over 8%. Notably, consumers in this market segment are more open to trying new things, as long as the price is similar to other nutrition products and the taste is good.

“There are many different strains of microalgae, and some of them have a complete amino acid profile. This is particularly interesting, as a lot of plant-based alternatives for sports nutrition products do not have a full branch-chained amino acids profile. It marks a big opportunity for NewFish because the nutritional level of our microalgae protein is on par with that of whey or dairy protein,” ​Hogg explained.

Furthermore, the environmental impact of microalgae protein is said to be “a fraction of animal-based protein” due to lesser carbon dioxide emissions, water usage and production time.

“You get the same nutritional value with way lower environmental impact,” ​she added.

On the other hand, the firm emphasised that it is not exclusively catering for the US market, as there will be plans to bring its products to Asia eventually.

“We are starting from the US because it is a large market where we have partners with vast experience and connections. We are also passionate about the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region. In fact, there is more familiarity [among Asian consumers] with algae as a food product, such as seaweed. In some ways, that would allow us an easier entrance into the APAC markets,” ​said Hogg.

Carving out a new category

Microalgae are microscopic organisms that are invisible to the naked eye, but contain many of the same nutritional properties as regular algae.

NewFish expects the first prototype birthed from the collaboration with Socius to be ready by October 2023, although bringing it to market will take a few more years.
“It will likely be a familiar product, such as a protein bar or shake. Frankly, at the start, it is not going to be as delicious as a chocolate brownie. However, we are working with partners and advancing the tech to develop products that taste good and enjoyable not only for vegans, but also for everyone else.

There are so many potential applications. While microalgae is a great source of protein, it also has other content such as lipids. What we are trying to create is pure microalgae concentrate that can go into bars, shakes, and many other dairy alternatives. It’d be like a whole new category,” ​Hogg shared.

Besides applications, NewFish is focused on “unlocking the power of microalgae”, with a long-term goal of scaling up to make microalgae affordable and readily accessible. 

According to the company, microalgae has been around for millions of years, yet it is an "extremely underutilised" ingredient.

Currently, there are only a few strains of microalgae — among thousands that exist — which are commercially available.

As such, the firm is working with New Zealand science organisation Cawthron Institute to explore their collection of microalgae to discover new strains that could be beneficial for human nutrition.

“We want to look at strains that haven’t been evaluated before to assess their performance in foods, growth rate, nutrient compounds etc. Once we find something interesting, we will then look to commercialise it. We are presently doing a seed funding round, and if that is successful, it will help speed up our expansion,” ​said ​Hogg.

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